Gay Liberation Front dance ad in Los Angeles Free Press Jan 29, 1971

Gay Liberation Front dance ad in Los Angeles Free Press Jan 29, 1971

With the mainstream Gay Rights movement all breathless now that a gay bishop is going to be offering a prayer at Obama’s inaugural (is this meant to make up for Rick “gay=incest” Warren? Reminds me of that deliciously sarcastic feminist saw: “Feminism is the theory that women are equal. Misogyny is the theory that women are inferior. The truth is somewhere in between!”), it was a trip down memory lane in more ways than one to hear eminent queer historian Henry Abelove speak about the radical Gay Liberation Front (GLF) last Wednesday night, before an audience gathered by the alumni association of Wesleyan University.

September 1969 cover of The Advocate, U.S. gay newspaper

September 1969 cover of The Advocate, U.S. gay newspaper

The GLF sprang up in the immediate wake of the June 1969 Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, an historic event that ignited the contemporary lesbian and gay movement. While the GLF was shortlived –Prof. Abelove reported that GLF had split by that very fall, with a new group called the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) forming, and had mostly ended its formal existence by 1975 — its liberationist stance stood in contrast to the rights-based activism that GAA represented, and which dominates the movement to this day. Named after the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, the GLF saw itself as part of an interconnected and transnational struggle against oppression. Rather than seeking inclusion into the institutions of family, marriage, church and state, it sought their radical transformation and even, in some cases, their abolition. As Geoffrey Bateman writes:

The radical organization Students for a Democratic Society also helped to shape GLF. Allen Young, a former SDS activist, was a key figure in framing GLF’s principles. “Gay is good for all of us,” he asserted. “The artificial categories ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ have been laid on us by a sexist society . . . . As gays, we demand an end to the gender programming which starts when we are born . . . . The family . . . is the primary means by which this restricted sexuality is created and enforced. . . . Our understanding of sexism is premised on the idea that in a free society everyone will be gay.”

The GLF comprised male and female members of different races and classes, Prof. Abelove reported. They were all, however, very young.

Anti-war rally in Bryant Park, NYC 1970. Photo by John Lauritsen.

Anti-war rally in Bryant Park, NYC 1970. Photo by John Lauritsen.

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